and academics use many terms to define risk. These include markets,
benchmarks, asset classes, styles, style boxes, investment objectives,
risk factors, market dimensions, market segments, buckets of stocks,
rules of ownership, slices of the market, industry classifications,
and indexes such as Dow Jones Indexes, Standard and Poor's Indexes,
Russell Indexes, Wilshire Indexes, Morgan Stanley Capital Indexes, Wired
Index, and many more. Style is just one of many terms used. It is simply
a classification of an investment's risk characteristics. Investments
can be grouped into several criteria or dimensions.
Stocks of a particular style generally share long-term risk, return, and correlation characteristics. This helps investors and financial planners decide how to allocate their assets. An equity fund's style refers to the types of stocks the fund holds.
Active mutual fund managers define their own investment style, which guides them in picking individual stocks. For example, a fund manager may manage a growth fund that reflects a style preference of growth stocks.
The problem with investment style is that it is not consistently defined within the industry. Terms such as large, small, value, and growth have a wide range of definitions. This lack of specificity makes it difficult for investors to measure their risks and rewards, and easier for active managers to claim market beating returns over a nebulous benchmark.
A growth style includes stocks that are experiencing rapid growth in earnings, sales, or return on equity. Growth stocks tend to carry low book-to-market ratios, high price earnings ratios, and usually offer no dividend yields. Growth stocks are priced much higher than their book values, indicating a large portion of the purchase price goes to goodwill. Goodwill is basically the difference between the price and the book value. Growth is somewhat of a misnomer. The price paid for goodwill is often deflated by news of lower than expected earnings growth of these companies. Growth stocks are expected to underperform value stocks and the total market.
A value style includes stocks that tend to carry high book-to-market ratios, low price earnings ratios, high dividend yields, and are often described as being in distress. They are thus perceived by investors to be of higher risk, but investors need to remember that higher risk equates to higher expected return. The shareholders of value stocks have a high cost of capital, which equates to a higher expected return for the capital provider. The capital provider is the investor, or the capitalist. Value stocks may receive a lot of negative publicity and experience a downturn in their business.
The styles of large, small, and micro are based on a company's share price multiplied by the total number of shares. Companies are ranked and grouped into categories that vary substantially within the investment industry. For example, as of September 2001, the Russell 2000 index of small cap stocks had a weighted average market cap of $800 million, while the DFA small cap index had $600 million, and the DFA Micro cap index had $250 million. Morningstar, Russell, Lippers, Barra, Wilshire Associates, DFA, Morgan Stanley Capital Indexes, and Standard and Poor's are all considered reliable sources of style criteria. Each has its own set of rules for measuring value, growth, large, small, international, or emerging markets. It is no surprise that the active investor is dazed and confused.
Style drift refers to the tendency of active managers and actively managed mutual funds to deviate from their stated or expected investment style. This drift can occur gradually over time, as in the case of a "small-cap" manager buying larger and larger companies as their fund asset base grows. Style drift can also occur abruptly if an active manager perceives opportunities for higher returns from a different style. For example, a U.S. large company fund may purchase a high percentage of Mexican stocks, changing the funds style.
Style drift creates numerous problems
for active investors. It keeps them from maintaining reliable asset class
allocations for their portfolios. This results in inconsistent exposure
to risk and the resulting variations in expected average returns.
Experts widely agree that over time, asset class allocation is on average the single most important determinant of variance in investment performance. The best way to design a portfolio's asset class allocation is to use historical asset class data.
Active investors cannot use historical asset class data to design asset class allocations for their portfolios. Many design them by relying on style labels such as "value," "growth," "large" or "small" that are carried by active mutual funds. They may even neglect to design them at all. An active fund usually does not relate to the risk and return potential of any single asset class. It is unclear how the reliance on labels that supposedly identify these asset classes can help active investors design asset class allocations for their portfolios. This task can prove even more difficult for an active investor who invests in a separate portfolio of individual stocks and bonds. It is essentially impossible to rationally design a portfolio's asset class allocation when the building blocks of the investment strategy used to implement it are active mutual funds or individual stocks, bonds, or both.
Style drift prevents an active investor from optimally reducing diversifiable risk, because the manager of a typical active fund does not remain consistently invested in the same asset class. On the surface, this does not seem to be much of a problem, but investors who reduce diversifiable risk get a bonus. The bonus is increased return.
Style drift heightens the uncertainty felt by active investors who have little idea how their investments will perform and how their performance will relate to a discrete index. Unnecessary costs and taxes are generated in efforts to maintain consistency between a portfolio’s asset allocation and the various investments used to implement it.
The considerable latitude given to managers by active mutual fund prospectuses often results in style drift. Style labels assigned to active mutual funds by fund rating services are not particularly helpful to active investors who rely on them to design asset allocations for their portfolios. For example, an active investor who wants to design an asset allocation that includes the asset class of U.S. large company stocks may find an entire list of labeled “U.S. large company” (active) mutual funds. The problem is that the investments held by an active fund can change over time. Investors in the Fidelity Magellan Fund found this out the hard way when money manager Jeffrey Vinik shifted 30% of the fund’s assets from stocks to bonds and cash. This must have been an unwelcome surprise to investors who had chosen Magellan to earn the returns of stocks, not bonds or cash, and based their asset allocations on that expectation.
That is precisely the problem with style drift. It introduces a lot of needless uncertainty as to whether investors can implement their asset allocations, since it is likely that active funds will drift from their benchmarks. Even worse, there is no way to know which active mutual funds will survive in the future, much less which ones will be winners or losers.
manager Jeffrey Vinik's notorious fall from grace after tinkering with
the popular Fidelity Magellan fund in 1996 is one of the most visible
examples of style drift. Fidelity's Magellan was the world's largest mutual
fund, and has been a popular equity investment. In February 1996, Magellan's
asset allocation was only seventy percent equity. Vinik, the fund's manager
at the time, had invested twenty percent of the fund in bonds and ten
percent in short-term marketable securities, betting that long-term bonds
and short-term marketable securities would outperform the equities market.
Instead, the market soared to new heights, bonds fell in value, and Vinik
left Fidelity. The key issue was not the outcome of Vinik's decision,
but the investor's loss of control of the asset allocation process.
In May of 2013, Vinik announced the closure of his hedge fund, Vinik Asset Management, after losing 4.8% since the start of July 2012, compared with a 19% gain for the S&P 500. This announcement came on the heels of investors demanding to withdraw $1.5 billion from the $8 billion fund. The decline in the fund’s value was attributed to a large bet on gold mining stocks, which were hit hard by gold’s plunge in April 2013.
As recently as March 1999, Fidelity was still being criticized for misrepresenting its funds. Steven Syre and Steve Bailey, columnists for the Boston Globe, took the company to task for including stocks of mammoth companies like Microsoft Corporation and MCI WorldCom Inc. in its Fidelity Emerging Growth Fund. The fund markets itself as one that invests in small and mid-sized companies. Thomas Eidson, Fidelity's senior vice president and director of corporate affairs, conceded that Syre and Bailey had made a legitimate point.
Fidelity touted the fund's returns by comparing them to the performance of small and medium company stocks. In 1998, they performed dramatically worse than large company stocks. "It's not that uncommon for a fund to beat its competition by a few points if you're comparing apples to apples," Syre said in an interview with Brill's Content. "But this thing was blowing them away."
The Securities and Exchange Commission agreed with the journalists. Fidelity changed the fund's name to Aggressive Growth Fund and eliminated language in its prospectus that suggested a focus on smaller stocks.
A recent study by the Association for Investment Management found that approximately forty percent of actively managed funds are classified inaccurately, based on the stated goals versus actual investments. The fund managers are drifting along, chasing the latest hot trend. All actively managed funds drift from their benchmark to varying degrees. Only index funds do not drift.
One way to analyze style drift is to measure the exposure to different indexes at sequential times. Figure 6-1 illustrates the drifting styles of the Fidelity Magellan Fund from January 1981 to December 2011. The scale on the left designates the relative exposure to different styles. Note that the green zone is a large value index and the blue zone is a large growth index. Between January 1993 and December 1996, it would have been better to classify the fund as a large value fund, while in January 2000 it would have been a large growth fund.
Style drifters, like the managers of the Magellan Fund, are altering their styles in their quest for the next winner. As a contrast, see Figure 6-2, which illustrates the style purity of a S&P 500 Index Fund. In looking at the chart you can see an equal exposure between the large growth and large value as represented by the Russell 1000 Value and Russell 1000 Growth.
Fama and French identified
risk factors in 1992 that highly correlate with long-term historical returns,
namely company size and value orientation. Style drift between these two
factors for two periods of approximately fifteen years can be seen in
Figure 6-1. On the horizontal axis, Value is a high Book-to-Market ratio
(BtM) and Growth is a small BtM. On the vertical axis, Small and Large
Cap are companies with small and large market capitalization, respectively.
The numbers on the axes are measures of market exposure to each of these
asset classes. The 0,0 point (the crossing of the axes) essentially represents
the entire market. It reflects all of the stocks in the CRSP database
and is the reference for the other measurements.
The green points reflect the average exposure of the funds during the period between January 1976 and June 1988. The white points reflect average exposure during the period between July 1988 and December 2000. Note how far some funds moved from their starting point. This movement reflects Style Drift and is often an unannounced change in investment objectives. Other funds barely moved. It should be noted that the data fails to reveal the many additional shifts in positions that these funds made within each of the years depicted. These additional shifts drive up trading costs, generate higher taxes, alter risk, and lower returns.
One of the reasons it is so dangerous to style drift is because styles are as unpredictable as stocks, times, or managers. Take a look at how the style of the year changes over time in the table below. Just follow the light blue International Small Company, which goes from highest to lowest and back to highest in the first three years. Can you pick the next winning style? It is no wonder that both professional and amateur investors are whipsawed into investing in different styles. But investors who hold onto diversified portfolios obtain the returns and losses of all top performing asset classes over time. This method has been shown to substantially improve your returns.
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